One thing I have found through the years of being on the shooting end of the camera is that you tend to feel safe or at least somehow removed from the reality of what’s happening right in front of you.
Last week I was on an extensive shoot for an environmental organization which took me all around the island of Sri Lanka. It was a treat once again to see the raw beauty and diversity of the country since mobility has been limited for many years due to the civil war.
On one stretch of road carved out of dense jungle a thin wire had been erected along one side to keep the elephants off the road and away from the sparse settlements on the other side. The locals said they put an electric charge through the fence at night and the pachyderms had learned to keep a little distance from it. As we drove down the road, I spotted elephants right inside the wire and immediately ordered the driver to stop! We eased our way to a stationary position and tried not to spook the ele’s. But, our caution had been unnecessary. They stayed put and didn’t seem bothered by our presence. These guys were as wild as can be but must have been attracted by the action along the road as a form of entertainment unavailable in the bush. Or, maybe they had scored an occasional treat from the homo sapiens who ventured to stop and were waiting for another handout.
Well, I not only ventured to stop but, encouraged by their inviting demeanor, beat a quick path to the fence, trusting the mammoth had fresh memory of a recent zapping and trusting someone had remembered to turn off the juice.
I didn’t want to see any fence in my wildlife shots, so I poked my head and camera through the wires and began shooting with delight. Sriyani and the others stayed in the van and screamed blood curdling encouragement each time a big one would make a move.
We made three such stops and I was in my elephant element!
The last guy was the kicker, though… I noticed he was all alone and seemed a little feisty (the neighbors called him ferocious!). I couldn’t resist a beautiful open vista behind him and had to stop one more time. Brimming with confidence, I assumed my newly acquired elephant dance mode and began shooting this Goliath through the wire with a wide angle lens just a few meters away… This big fella wasn’t as cordial and began making gestures which I’ve since learned mean ‘get the #!!*%!# outta here or I’ll kick your little skinny white *%+#!’ Still trusting my wire protector I diligently shot on until the inevitable happened… The high pitched screaming sounds of excitment coming from the van finally spooked the big guy and he just couldn’t take anymore.
He made a surprisingly quick and athletic lunging move in my direction! Amazing!!! Being a creature of instinct myself, I spun and began my own sprint to safety. Not having previously calculated the 2 foot anthill right behind me, I went flying and so did my camera and glasses (which came up missing after an inventory check of body parts after limping to the van).
On reflection, he could have had me if he wanted me, but probably got a big kick just seeing me scramble.
Camera was OK. I was a bit bruised, but WOW! What a thrill! ...a face to face, personal encounter with the amazing, wild King of the island and coming up with some great shots was a bonus!
humbling along and still happy to be here...
I love this place!